The Holy Spirit Circle

Jacob Neusner, The Midrash: An Introduction (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1990) 21.

Neusner quotes from Pesikta De-Rav Kahana 1:5. Neusner dates this work to the fifth century C.E. The following passage interacts with Numbers 7:1, which concerns the completion of the Tabernacle.

R. Yohanan said, “On the day that Moses completed means the day on which hatred came to an end in the world. For before the Tabernacle was set up, there was hatred and envy, competition, contention, and strife in the world. But once the tabernacle was set up, love, affection, comradeship, righteousness and peace came into the world…”

My first thought was that this verse presents the same problem that Jesus does for Jews. Non-Christian Jews ask, “If Jesus really is the Messiah, as you Christians say, then why don’t we have peace in the world?” Well, if the Tabernacle really did end hatred and usher in a new era of righteousness, peace, and love, then what happened? There’s still hatred today!

But even strands of Jewish tradition don’t think that the presence of God in an earthly sanctuary guarantees righteousness, or even peace. The Hebrew Bible says that the first temple was destroyed on account of Israel’s sins. And the Babylonian Talmud states that the second one was destroyed because of strife within the Jewish community.

But Christians have much the same hope that this passage from the Pesikta conveys. We look forward to the time when the Tabernacle of God will be with men, ushering in a new era of love, peace, and righteousness (Revelation 21:3).

Yet, there are many Christians who hope that the presence of God within them or in the midst of the church will result in love and holiness. “Are you struggling with fear and bitterness, James?,” the Pentecostal preacher who baptized me said after I told him about some of my struggles. “Then you need to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And a Nazarene preacher who was the co-pastor at my independent Seventh-Day Adventist church in Massachussetts said that “where God is, there is peace,” or something to that effect.

At the same time, Christians act as if love, peace, righteousness, etc. are prerequisites for God’s presence. “God will not dwell where there’s hatred and bitterness,” I’ve heard some say. Joyce Meyer once compared the Holy Spirit with a gentle dove: if we allow a lot of grumbling, hatred, and turbulence into our soul, then the sensitive Holy Spirit will fly away. I doubt she means that the Christian then becomes a non-Christian, but rather that the Holy Spirit can only work with us when we’re receptive and cooperating, not cluttered with a lot of junk.

I know I need the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, yet I also realize that sin hinders the Holy Spirit’s work within me. It’s a circle!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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